The results have potential implications regarding disease surveillance in wildlife populations and food safety, bioterrorism and human disease diagnosis. (Agencies)
"It is possible to use odours to 'eavesdrop' on the immune system, suggesting that non-invasive disease detection may be possible even before the onset of observable symptoms," explained Bruce Kimball, a research chemist with the US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) national wildlife research centre.
In the study, 'biosensor' mice were trained to discriminate between urine odours from mice vaccinated against either the rabies virus (RV) or the West Nile virus (WNV).
All training and testing trials were conducted using a Y-maze with odours randomly assigned to each arm of the "Y".
The biosensor mice were also trained to differentiate between urine from mice treated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a bacterial toxin that activates the immune system and untreated urine.
The biosensor mice clearly discriminated RV, WNV, and LPS urine odours from non-treated urine. Furthermore, biosensors also were able to differentiate between the vaccines and LPS odours.
"The findings suggest that the two vaccines alter urine odour in similar ways, while an LPS-triggered immune response produces a qualitatively different body odour," Kimball suggested.
"This research indicates that there is a pathway between immune activation and changes in the body odour compounds, revealing yet another kind of information stored in body odours," added Gary Beauchamp, a Behavioural Biologist.
It is likely that humans also have the potential to communicate the same information, said the research that appeared in the journal Physiology and Behavior.
The results have potential implications regarding disease surveillance in wildlife populations and food safety, bioterrorism and human disease diagnosis.